“Today, all institutions are being run according to individual whims”: Justice PB Sawant

10 December 2020
PB Sawant, a retired Supreme Court judge who served as the PCI chairman between 1995 and 2001, at his home.
PB Sawant, a retired Supreme Court judge who served as the PCI chairman between 1995 and 2001, at his home.

On 11 November, the Supreme Court granted interim bail to Arnab Goswami, the editor-in-chief of Republic TV, in connection to a two-year-old case of abetment to suicide of Anvay Naik, the managing director of a design and building company. The apex court remarked, “We are walking through the path of destruction of liberty.” The process to secure bail for Goswami, who was arrested in Mumbai on 4 November, was conspicuously swift at a time when journalists critical of the government have been imprisoned and compelled to wait for long periods to even get a hearing.

Despite the increasing persecution of journalists in recent years, statements of solidarity from press associations are often belated or absent. In fact, the Press Council of India, a media watchdog had publicly toed the government line in August 2019, when it told the Supreme Court that the centre’s curbs on the media in Kashmir was in the nation’s interest. In contrast, when Goswami was attacked on 22 April, the PCI had taken sou moto cognisance in under a day, demanding a report on the case from the Maharashtra government. This is despite electronic media, including television, not traditionally falling under the jurisdiction of the PCI.

Aathira Konikkara, a reporting fellow at The Caravan, spoke to PB Sawant, a retired Supreme Court judge who served as the PCI chairman between 1995 and 2001, about the need to regulate electronic media. They also spoke about a defamation lawsuit he had filed, in 2018, against Times Now, then headed by Goswami, for mistakenly airing a photo of Sawant in a story about another judge.

Aathira Konikkara: The Press Council only has jurisdiction over newspapers and news agencies. But in April this year, the PCI took suo moto cognisance of the physical attack against Arnab Goswami. Is it unusual for the PCI to intervene in matters which concern those who are associated with electronic media?
PB Sawant: Well, it all depends on the merits of each case. It can’t be said that PCI should not intervene in such matters. When there are attacks on journalists or what they write or do, then it is possible for PCI to intervene. But they have no authority to take any action.

AK: During the bail hearing in the case of abetment to suicide against Arnab Goswami, Justice Chandrachud had spoken of the need to protect the liberty of every individual. But we don’t see the judiciary extend the same consideration to all journalists and activists who are in jail. Do you think the courts are being selective in listing matters or in granting bail?
PBS: Today, all the institutions are being run according to the individual whims and wills. The judiciary is expected to act according to law and also extend the help of law to everybody equally, whatever the situation, without fear or favour. Now, if people find there is discrimination made in favour of one individual and the interests of other individuals are neglected or deliberately ignored, then it is for the people to raise their voice.

Aathira Konikkara is a reporting fellow at The Caravan.

Keywords: Arnab Goswami Press Council media Right to Information Act Supreme Court of India